Forget the ‘walk softly’ thing

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Six years ago, when I arrived here to take over as publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal, longtime residents gave me lots of advice about how people here appreciated gradual change brought about by quiet diplomacy, you know, that old strong, silent Westerner image.

I guess I should have announced that I’m not quiet. I like my change overnight instead of over several decades, and my only resemblance to the John Wayne-Gary Cooper type is that I do have a pretty cool swagger.

Of course, my goal has been to prod local leaders into doing something revolutionary: leading. But first, I had to lead my own newspaper out of the wilderness.

Here at the CSBJ we added an elevator and built out the whole third floor with much commotion and movement of many desks.

During that move, as I was trying (and failing) to rein in my impatience; I inadvertently unplugged a reporter’s computer while she was working on a deadline story. She lost it all, but she learned a new skill: How to pierce a publisher’s skull with just her dagger-like glare.

Or another screw-up was when I was taking a sledgehammer to an old desk so it would fit in the over-sized dumpster. Well, I hit the desk but also hit a power receptacle. All the lights went out. At least we weren’t on deadline, but it slowed everyone down quite a bit. The sparks made an authentic replica of a miniature Fourth of July fireworks display, not to mention the sparks flying out of the power outlet.

So you see, if I’m willing to risk annoying my employees with my get-it-done-now approach, I’m certainly going to push for meaningful, beneficial change among those this newspaper reaches: the people with long titles on their business cards and Web sites that usually have the “C” word in it, as in chief of this or chief of that.

Why is the multi-use sports stadium downtown still a pipe dream? Amendment 1A, that was to be used to support economic development, was shot down in flames by voters. The convention center: fuggedabout it. The convention center funding was shut-down by voters to the point that City Council can’t even use the “C” word. (That would be convention center, not chief) Maybe an event center would be nice. The city has less revenue that it did six years ago. The USOC situation is still up in the air.

The victories are important but few: The FREX project has been completed and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority became reality with a lot of hard work by many.

While speaking at the Southern Colorado Economic Forum a few years back, I commented that The Gazette was holding our region back with its libertarian ideology. There were gasps in the room at the Antlers that I actually said that. Then the e-mails saying things like “ I wanted to stand up and applaud but I was afraid to” started pouring in.

The Springs touts the mountains and quality of life as major drivers for economic development. At the forum, I commented that being at the base of Pikes Peak was a liability. We shouldn’t depend on the mountain to attract business to the region. The mountain can’t talk, move or give tax incentives. I probably won’t be asked to participate in that forum again.

In a critique of the CSBJ by Chris Roberts, from the University of South Carolina in June 2008 he said,

“There’s a lot to like here, with a relentless focus and a great deal of news. I come away with a sense of place, and a business publication that loves where it is without being too much of a home-town booster. In short, I put you well into the top tier of news-driven biz publications.”

I didn’t make the changes that resulted in such a glowing review, but I like to think I guided a strong, hard-working staff into making them. The key, in my view, was leading without fear that change would ruin things. That kind of leadership is what this city needs.

And we are celebrating 20 years of the Colorado Springs Business Journal on Aug. 20 with an event at the Stargazer Theatre. Attendees will get a commemorative book about the last 20 years of the business community. The founders of the CSBJ, Roger Powell and Chuck Sheldon will be there. Ironically, they founded the paper 20 years ago … in a recession.

What fun it’s been. But we still need a multi-use sports facility downtown.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.

One Response to Forget the ‘walk softly’ thing

  1. What this country needs is a good five-cent rugby game!

    Dick Burns
    July 20, 2009 at 10:27 pm